Wednesday, 27 November 2013

The Locies: A Review Of Sydney's Alternative Music Awards

DATE: 23/11/13

Our journey begins at the iconic Lansdowne Hotel in Chippendale. The camera pans through the double hinged doors and onto our narrator as he overthrows his opponent, “The Succubus Of Enmore” with a flawless victory in a gentlemen’s game of pool. She concedes defeat and hints that we should make tracks so that we can make it to our destination on time. A brisk walk through the sundry nirvana that is Newtown sees us face to face with Marrickville’s foreboding music citadel, the infamous Factory Theatre. Squires and fair maidens were summoned here from across the realm to witness the wedding of the century. Eighteen artists representing a plethora of musical genres would join together to celebrate the inaugural LOCIES, Sydney’s own alternative music awards. We franticly passed a troupe of vividly dressed jugglers and rushed upstairs towards the Fusebox stage in order to catch the virgin performers of the day.

I peered meekly into the vacant room where my eyes were greeted by a lone bearded sentry, surveying the stage from his centralised pedestal. He smiled as he ushered us into the dimly lit room and jested that we were just in time to catch their rehearsal, a joke pointing out the lack of punters in the room. Our hirsute guide joins the ragtag cast of flower children on stage and we are introduced to quaint Sydney folk sextet LITTLE HART with CAM RAEBURN. Fellow hairy member Miles Johnson invites the five strong observation team to take a seat on the floor and enjoy the show. We obliged the alien request and I sat confused, completely oblivious to what I was about to witness. Acoustic guitarist Louise Miller’s chilling, wispy vocals are on par with Julia Stone in the opening track from the band which immediately gives me the sensation of floating down a river in the country. The band take the time to learn all our names and dedicate the second track to the spirit child seated in front of me who took the acknowledgement as an invitation to dance like a space cadet for the rest of the performance. An orchestra of instruments line the stage and with them, five vocalists with surprisingly deceptive voices. The sheer power of violinist Bron Watkins’ ethereal tones caused me to tear up with admiration. The role of tenor was supplied by Cam Raeburn who strummed his ukulele like a flamenco by the end of the set. Electric guitarist Miles Johnson supplied a gentle baritone from his small framed body and Mitchel Creecy admired his band mates while he tapped away on his snare lined wooden crate. The biggest surprise of the set for me came from lanky bassist Scott Davey who was a dead ringer for Shaggy from Scooby Doo. The guy’s voice was raspy, deep and sounded like he had smoked a cigar every day for the last forty years. The band in its entirety was charismatic and their vocals complimented each other perfectly like the multiple layers of a homemade lasagne. They threw in some gorgeous acapella for good measure just in case we weren’t already blown away. The stand out track for me was “Maybe Low” which once again had me reaching for the tissues. Considering this isn’t even my style of music, this was the perfect way to start the day.

Dj outfit DA HEEBIE JEEBIES open with a nostalgic remix of Aladdin’s “You ain’t never had a friend like me”. It was all silly fun as the filthy hippies behind the turntables joked with each other throughout the set while dancing for their own amusement. A pumping mix of Red Hot Chilli Peppers “Give It Away Now” got a few people dancing. I absorbed what I could from the set and made my way downstairs to the Floor Stage to catch the next performers.

Upcoming Sydney foursome VILLAGE ECHOES open the Floor Stage with their fresh take on turn of the millennium inspired indie rock. More people had decided to show up for this set but they decided to hug the walls. I close my eyes as the amalgamation of influences fill my ears; Foo Fighters, early Good Charlotte, Bloc Party and the upcoming single bears a distinct Arctic Monkeys flavour. Guitarist Lauren Shapiro shames the boys by sporting more tattoos than the three combined. Alex Almasi was comfortable behind the mike but his vocals suffered from being too far back in the mix. James Pounsett demonstrated some crisp drum fills and showed great cymbal work. The track “Sleeping In” was a highlight for me and would make a great composition for a sad montage of a movie. I found that each song the band played was fresh and very easy to dance to. Shapiro broke the set up nicely by taking over the vocals with her distinctive indie voice. Bassist Steve Parfitt was the most entertaining of the four with a stage presence similar to Jason Newstead of Metallica. Impressive set from these ambitious young upstarts.

I rolled my eyes as seasoned Sydney quartet AGE OF MENACE were setting up because I had stupidly labelled them as nothing but daft thrash metal before they had even started the set. They managed to draw the first real crowd of the day so I decided to stay and see them out, which turned out to be one of the best decisions of my day. These guys were a band out of time but they delivered a punching hard rock/metal set with a no bullshit approach. From the get go Rob Smiths vocals were drowned from the overly loud, empty bodied, phaser heavy distortion of Pete Ross’s Slayer-esque guitars. This was remedied soon into the second song when I couldn’t help but be reminded of how much the band sounded like Powerman 5000. It was a really fun set for the audience and the band with bassist Adam Barns seemingly having the most fun in the room. Smith’s vocals were a combination of Dez Fafara of Coal Chamber/Devil Driver and Spider One of Powerman 5000 and it was fucking awesome. An incredible moment of the set came from a verse where Adam Breakspear only hit the toms and Smith rapped over the top. This lead to an incredible drop when the rest of the band came in.  The band only got better as the set continued and my only criticisms by the end of it were that the bass and backing vocals were a little lost in the mix.

BLACK BREAKS were another band I had never heard of before today’s events and they had easily drawn the biggest crowd of the entire day. This set screamed of fun even before they had started playing with the Earl of charisma, Chris Dubrow verbally licking the asshole of Stu the sound guy behind the duct tape mother ship that was his guitar. The band sported adorable matching vests to entertain us with their sexually charged brand of party rock. Opening track “Alien Nation” had the room buzzing early. Its well tested formula was akin The Sweet’s “Ballroom Blitz” and Foo Fighters “All My Life”. Dubrow is a rock star in every sense of the word and you can’t help but be drawn to his dominating stage presence. With that being said he humbly directs attention equally to every other member of his band. The super low, distorted, twangy bass notes of Mark Avery combined with the well suited electronics of new member Matty MacMartin help drive and infuse the party rock madness with a distinct industrial edge. More influences come into the fray as the set continues. Sex Pistols, Black Flag, Motorhead and Mammal are thrown in my direction as Dubrow spits lyrical with his spoken and rapped verses. MM9s Kerry Foulke brings his priceless experience to the band and rocks out like a possessed Hatebreed fan at his first gig. Tracks “Take Take Take” and “Blah Blah Blah Black President” had the whole crowd dancing and the comedic timing strewn between the two was genius. At the end of the set Dubrow gave a heartfelt speech about how the decline of live music in Sydney is an easily rectifiable issue that can be amended by everyone simply attending one gig a month; a message I support 100%. Black Breaks set the bar unusually high for the rest of the bands of the day. I felt bad for whoever was up next.

The crowd had grown noticeably smaller for Sydney rockers DRAW. A loyal troupe of what I’m assuming were friends, line the front of the stage and the band kick into an instantly Audioslave flavoured set. Vocalist Michael Rappell appears out of nowhere; the spitting image of Jim Morrison (The Doors). He desperately tries to emulate his idol and after a single song is visibly out of breath. The stage presence of the band was non-existent with the exception of multi instrumental prodigy Brad Kafer. Mid set came a woeful cover of Coolio’s “Gansta’s Paradise” which was so awful that the cringe was travelling around the room like an electric current passing through a chain of kids holding an electric fence. The poor kid on the end was going to cop the brunt of it; unfortunately that kid was me. The synth was completely lost in the mix and Rappell’s overuse of the megaphone was done to death. It wasn’t all bad though. Draw finally managed to come alive when they completely shifted gears and decided they were a Chilli Peppers styled funk band. The finale was a decent song too which incorporated the occasional angry vocals and some surprisingly effective disjointed breaks. Maybe I was still giddy from watching Black Breaks or maybe Draw just aren’t very good. Either way, I wasn’t impressed.

NEOTOKYO are a band that I have seen before and I really want to succeed. Debut EP “Pillars” is a corker from start to finish and shows the talent and ambition behind this great Sydney four piece. I instantaneously notice that jovial percussionist Jason Ludwig is sapping all the happiness from the other three members of the band. Shoeless bassist Michael Bargache does his thing in the corner but the tone of his instrument needs to be a butt load beefier to fatten out the breezy tones of Adam Funrness’s flurry of deliciously delayed guitars. Neotokyo have stumbled across a rare treasure within vocalist Chris Tantchev who is a major asset to the group. His vocals, an amalgamation of Daniel Johns (Silverchair) and Tyrone Bain (Ashphoenix), effortlessly crescendo into beautiful, heartfelt ballads. Neotokyo in my opinion seem to fall down live because apart from Ludwig, who mouths the noise of every part of his kit as he hits it, no one in the band engages the audience. Every band will have their share of shoe gazers which is a given but because of the non-existent interaction from the guitarists, the onus falls on the shoulders of the incredibly gifted Chris Tantchev. He gazes over the crowd to the point of almost looking asleep onstage and is incredibly awkward using a microphone stand. He gives the stand the boot after a while and immediately seems more in his element albeit a little stage shy. Opening EP track “Speak” is the standout of the set. I found myself singing along to its instantly memorable vocal hooks which really demonstrate the bands integrity as song writers. They close the set with new single “Neon” which has an infusion of Hoobastank to it which works well with the direction of the band and ended the set strong.

Event organiser Angelina Hodgson informed me earlier in the day that the one band I absolutely had to witness was Brisbane’s CALIGULA’S HORSE. Upon arrival to the Floor Stage the prog rock superstars had my attention with two branded banners that had framed the stage. This small detail had already set this ambitious band apart from the rest of the bill before they had even played a note and at the genesis of their set my jaw hit the floor. And the floor under that. And the floor under that. The glorious sounds of Opeth laced with but a smidgen of djent stimulate my overly spoilt ear holes. Supermodel vocalist Jim “The Ken Doll” Grey delivers incredibly potent, driving vocals which took the best parts from Chaos Divines’ David Anderton, The Butterfly Effects Clint Boge and Karnivool’s Ian Kenny and turned them into a hulking leviathan to drive the band. He is theatrical with his performance and makes you feel the emotion behind the lyrics even if his voice was hard to hear at times in the mix. God damn he is a pretty, pretty man. The music was gothic, operatic and downright sexual. At one point I swear Dave Couper (who bears a striking resemblance to Little John from Men In Tights) stared me down as I was taking notes as if to say “Na baby. You keep doing your thing, and do it real slow like”. All this was while he was frantically fingering the steel ropes of his bass like a Parkinson’s patient on red bull. The music was covered in a chainmail of tightly wound key changes and acute, unified notes. It was syncopated nirvana and the crowd was lapping it up by the gallon. Snowflakes of Periphery fell from the speakers as the luxurious, fire kissed, Rapunzel length hair of Drum monkey Geoff Irish lit up the back of the stage like a Texan sunset. This band was good and every aspect of their performance demonstrated that they were fully self-aware. Zac Greensill charged away on his axe, dicing it to pieces as the set progressed. Animals As Leaders could be heard now as Irish counted the timing in his head in between strategically placed winks to the girls in the crowd. No effect was out of place as these Mensa accredited musicians continued to seduce me and everyone around me. Omnipotent guitarist Sam Vallen performed like a gladiator fighting for his life and knew every inch of his instrument right down to the microscopic hairs in its asshole. I was so wrapped up in the performance that when the music ended leaving nothing but a half second of falsetto, I found myself uncontrollably tapping my foot to the beat of song that had just expired. I was ready to drop my derps in the middle of the room and to start going to town on myself at the conclusion of the appropriately titled “Colossus” and the cynical sense of humour that exuberated from the Queenslandians only made the experience that much more enjoyable. Needless to say, I am now a loyal and devoted fan. Verdict? BAND! OF! THE! DAY!

I’m going to say right off the bat that TEAL are going to be the next big band in Australia. I’ve seen them open for Twelve Foot Ninja and The Butterfly Effect and bring the house down on both occasions. Teal are fresh yet familiar. The songs are chock full of vocal and melodic hooks which are sure to drop the pants off many a mistress in bedrooms Australia wide. The boys struggled with some technical difficulties while setting up and it was evident by the amount of shoe gazing going on that they were upset at the beginning of their set. However Vocalist supreme Joe Surgey over performed to help pull his band mates out of their slump and had them firing on all pistons half way into the opening track. Surgey’s intense and peculiar performance causes the veins in his neck to surface for air like an orca. His flawless vocal chords producing a fusion of Cedric Bixler-Zavala (The Mars Volta), Matt Bellamy (Muse) and Jeff Buckley which would rival all three of these powerhouses any given day of the week. Each track seems to identify with a different time signature as the major influences of Radiohead and The Mars Volta are worn proudly on their sleeves. The guitarists manually handled the effects on their pedals resulting in a brilliant whirling, static like sound akin a turning the dials on an old timey radio. Surgey sheds his technicolour dream coat mid set to reveal a minecraft shirt which got it fair share of giggles around the room. Fan favourite track “Solitaires” demonstrates just what a wrecking ball the Sydney quintet have in their arsenal in terms of writing and it is delivered with flawless execution on this most momentous of nights. Teal are a larger than life band who will have promoters and label managers fighting over them in the very near future.

Because I’d already seen them ten to fifteen times before, I decided to give the ever impressive Meniscus a miss in favour of SVELT, a self-dubbed bass heavy “jungle groove” act hailing from Sydney. I found these guys really hard to review as it is not my type of music at all. The drum, bass and synth trio played an entertaining show and I imagined Michel Winslow’s Spaceballs character giving his status report of “I’ve lost the bleeps. I’ve lost the beeps and I’ve lost the creeps” throughout. The allure of the upstairs band became too much however and I found myself being whisked up the onyx steps before I knew it.

Sydney’s instrumental post rock trio MENISCUS drew every musician in the venue to their stage. The crowd was rowdy as I entered; the boys from Caligula’s Horse even rowdier. I was shattered upon learning that I had walked in just in time to catch the last song and I nestled myself amongst the bewildered onlookers to catch these gargantuan performers melt some faces in the room. The ambient, rainforest sampled track that was “Cusp” had the masses watching in silence, trying to piece together exactly how guitarist Daniel Oreskovic effortlessly massacres the frets of his axe while producing a sound so fragile yet so limitless. His stage persona is a Muppet that transforms into a hubcap flying off a car. It’s bizarre and entertaining and you can’t stop watching. The projection on the wall frames stellar, low end architect Alison Kerjean as she lays the crucial, grinding bass that gels the music together. Cameron Brennan rounds out the trio with his solid percussion skills, often guiding Kerjean’s groove and flaring into an outbreak of accented fills that make the music come to life. The set ends before I even have a chance to unwind and Meniscus are thanked with a volley of cheers and thunderous applause.

A curfew caused the awards ceremony to be cut down in order for the headliner to be able to play a full set. I’d given Melbourne’s ENGINE a quick listen before I came and instantly poo pooed them. Once again my pre judgement proved me to be a total and utter twat. In a day full of charismatic vocalists, Casey Dean stood head and shoulders above them. The music was big, brash, unforgiving and was a less heavy, more party version of Armenian-American metal clowns System Of A Down. Guitarist Jedi Wright was in his own little world while the rest of the band demanded the adoration of everyone present. Aryn Appleberry’s juicy bass and amazingly strong backing vocals were the salsa to Dean’s corn tortillas chips. Dean rummaged through the back stage area mid performance and returned with a pink unicorn head found in a pile of abandoned costumes behind the stage which he wore for the next song in the set. Engine were another band who liberally applied comedy into their routine. This was an incredibly entertaining way to end the night which left me with a warm feeling in my tummy like I had just downed a fresh flagon of mulled wine.

I have never walked out of a music festival that satisfied in my life. Event organiser Angelina Hodgson has gone above and beyond what even the most seasoned of festival promoters are capable of by rounding up a consistently high calibre of musicians into one place. The amount of talent and showmanship I saw today proved that the live music scene is in very capable hands and it is alive and kicking. It is up to us punters to fuel the fire to help make it the raging dragon it was destined to be.  

Don’t be a dick, Sydney! Support the live music scene.


  1. Another unreal set by Age Of Menace as usual ......

  2. The Hungry Mile also on the bill as well as beggars orchestra.

  3. Thanks. The Hungry Mile and Beggars Orchestra unfortunately clashed with a few of the bands I had my heart set on seeing that day which is why they aren't included in the piece. There'll be plenty of opportunities to review both bands in the future as they are frequently on the bills of the gigs I go to see.

  4. Great review.

    Excellent commitment to being there from the first to last and giving each band their due. I freaking love Svelt, dunno why you can't get into them but at least you've got the good sense to say it's not your kinda jam, rather than dissing them because it's not your thing.